Keith Hunt - Sabbath under Crossfire - Page Two   Restitution of All Things

  Home Previous Page Next Page

The SABBATH under Crossfire #2

The Pope's Sunday NT evidence?


by Samule Bacchiocchi PhD


     The second chapter of the Pastoral Letter entitled "Dies
Christi The Day of Christ" focuses on three major, biblical
events that allegedly justify Sunday observance: (1) The
Resurrection and appearances of Christ which took place on 'the
first day after the Sabbath' (Mark 16:2,9; Luke 24:1; John 20:1);
26  (2) the religious gatherings that occurred on the first day
of the week (cf. 1 Cor 16:2; Acts 20:7-12); 27  and (3) the
outpouring of the Holy Spirit fifty days after the Resurrection
which occurred on a Sunday (Acts 2:2-3). 28  We examine these
arguments in their respective order.

(1) The Resurrection/Appearances of Christ

     The Pope maintains that the earliest Christians "made the
first day after the Sabbath a festive day, for that was the day
on which the Lord rose from the dead." 29  He argues that though
Sunday is rooted in the creative and redemptive meaning of the
Sabbath, the day finds its full expression in the Resurrection of
Christ. "Although the Lord's Day is rooted in the very work of
creation and even more in the mystery of the Biblical [Sabbath]
'rest' of God, it is nonetheless to the Resurrection of Christ
that we must look in order to understand fully the Lord's Day."

Importance Attributed to Resurrection. 

     The Resurrection and Appearance of Christ on the first day
of the week constitute, in the Pope's view, the fundamental
biblical justification for the origin of Sunday worship. He
summarizes concisely the alleged Biblical evidences in the
following paragraph: "According to the common witness of the
Gospels, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead took
place on 'the first day after the Sabbath' (Mark 16:2,9; Luke
24:1; John 20:1). On the same day, the Risen Lord appeared to the
two disciples of Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:1335) and to the eleven
Apostles gathered together (cf. Luke 24:36; John 20:19). A week
later - as the Gospel of John recounts (cf. John 20:26) the
disciples were gathered together once again when Jesus appeared
to them and made Himself known to Thomas by showing him the signs
of His Passion. The day of Pentecost - the first day of the
eighth week after the Jewish Passover (cf. Acts 2:1), when the
promise made by Jesus to the Apostles after the Resurrection was
fulfilled by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (cf. Luke 24:49;
Acts 1:4-5) - also fell on a Sunday. This was the day of the
first proclamation and the first baptisms: Peter announced to the
assembled crowd that Christ was risen and 'those who received his
word were baptized' (Acts 2:41). This was the epiphany of the
Church, revealed as the people into which are gathered in unity,
beyond all their differences, the scattered children of God." 31
     Numerous Catholic and Protestant scholars concur with John
Paul in attributing to Christ's Resurrection and appearances on
the first day of the week the fundamental reason for the choice
of Sunday by the Apostolic church. In his doctoral dissertation
on the origin of Sunday, Corrado Mosna, a Jesuit student at the
Pontifical Gregorian University who worked under Vincenzo
Monachino, S.J.(the same professor who monitored my
dissertation), concludes: "Therefore we can conclude with
certainty that the event of the Resurrection has determined the
choice of Sunday as the day of worship of the first Christian
community " 32
     The same view is expressed by Cardinal Jean Danielou: "The
Lord's Day is a purely Christian institution; its origin is to be
found solely on the fact of the Resurrection of Christ on the day
after the Sabbath." 33 In a similar vein, Paul Jewett, a
Protestant scholar, writes: "What, it might be asked,
specifically motivated the primitive Jewish church to settle upon
Sunday as a regular time of assembly? As we have observed before,
it must have had something to do with the Resurrection which,
according to the uniform witness of the Gospels, occurred on the
first day of the week." 34
(It is more than just interesting that inspite of Paul in Romans
14, that some throw at you today, to support Sunday observance,
this theology has to ignore the contradition it would then be
with Romans 14, when if Paul is talking about (which he is not)
ANY day to set aside as holy, Sunday cannot be used as THE
"specific" day above any other day of the week. Hence all who try
to establish Sunday holiness, either have to ignore Romans 14 or
have to admit Paul is NOT discussing days in the context of
"which is holy to the Lord" - Keith Hunt)

Evaluation of the Resurrection. 

     In spite of its popularity, the alleged role of the
Resurrection in the adoption of Sunday observance lacks biblical
support. A careful study of all the references to the Resur-
rection reveals the incomparable importance of the event, 35  but
it does not provide any indication regarding a special day to
commemorate it. In fact, as Harold Riesenfeld notes, "In the
accounts of the Resurrection in the Gospels, there are no sayings
which direct that the great event of Christ's Resurrection should
be commemorated on the particular day of the week on which it
occurred." 36
     Moreover, as the same author observes, "The first day of the
week, in the writings of the New Testament, is never called 'Day
of the Resurrection'. This is a term which made its appearance
later." 37  Its usage first appears in the fourth century.
Therefore, "to say that Sunday was observed because Jesus rose on
that day," as S.V.McCasland cogently states, "is really a petitio
principii [begging the question], for such a celebration might
just as well be monthly or annually and still be an observance of
that particular day. 38
     The New Testament attributes no liturgical significance to
the day of Christ's Resurrection simply because the Resurrection
was seen as an existential reality experienced by living
victoriously by the power of the Risen Savior, and not a
liturgical practice associated with Sunday worship. Had Jesus
wanted to memorialize the day of His Resurrection, He would have
capitalized on the day of His Resurrection to make such a day the
fitting memorial of that event. But none of the utterances of the
risen Savior reveal an intent to memorialize the day of His
Resurrection by making it the new Christian day of rest and
worship. Biblical institutions such as the Sabbath, Baptism, and
the Lord's Supper all trace their origin to a divine act that
established them. But there is no such divine act for the
institution of a weekly Sunday or an annual Easter Sunday
memorial of the Resurrection.
     The silence of the New Testament on this matter is very
important since most of its books were written many years after
Christ's death and Resurrection. If by the latter half of the
first century Sunday had come to be viewed as the memorial of the
Resurrection which fulfilled the creation/redemption functions of
the Old Testament Sabbath, as the Pope claims, we would expect to
find in the New Testament some allusions to the religious meaning
and observance of the weekly Sunday and/or annual Easter-Sunday.
The total absence of any such allusions indicates that such
developments occurred in the post-apostolic period as a result of
an interplay of political, social, and religious factors. These I
have examined at length in my dissertation "From Sabbath to

(Absolutely true!! If the day of Christ's resurrection was to
replace the Old Covenant Sabbath, the 4th commandment of the
great Ten, then there can be no doubt that Jesus or the apostles
would have clearly stated that fact. There would have been a
Jerusalem conference as in Acts 15 for the circumcision debate,
to debate and to send forth instructions that the resurrection
day was now the holy Sabbath of the Lord. No such assersions can
be found anywhere in the New Testament - Keith Hunt)

No Easter-Sunday in the New Testament. 

     The Pope's claim that the celebration of Christ's
Resurrection on a weekly Sunday and annual Easter-Sunday "evolved
from the early years after the Lord's Resurrection" 39  cannot be
substantiated Biblically or historically. There is nearly
unanimous scholarly consensus that for at least a century after
Jesus' death, Passover was observed not on Easter-Sunday, as a
celebration of the Resurrection, but on the date of Nisan 14
(irrespective of the day of the week) as a celebration of the
sufferings, atoning sacrifice, and Resurrection of Christ.
The repudiation of the Jewish reckoning of Passover and the
adoption of Easter-Sunday instead is a post-apostolic development
which is attributed, as Joachim Jeremias puts it, "to the
inclination to break away from Judaism" 40 and to avoid, as J. B.
Lightfoot explains, "even the semblance of Judaism." 41
     The introduction and promotion of Easter-Sunday by the
Church of Rome in the second century caused the well-known
Passover (Quartodeciman) controversy which eventually led Bishop
Victor of Rome to excommunicate the Asian Christians (c. A.D.
191) for refusing to adopt Easter-Sunday. 42 Indications such as
these suffice to show that Christ's Resurrection was not
celebrated on a weekly Sunday and annual Easter-Sunday from the
inception of Christianity. The social, political, and religious
factors that contributed to the change from Sabbath to Sunday and
Passover to Easter-Sunday are discussed at great length in my

(Once more this is clearly what "Church history" records and
teaches. It also records there was opposition to Sunday and
Easter-Sunday; for a few hundred years the Christian world was
divided over Sabbath/Sunday and Passover/Easter. As the church of
Rome grew and finally became the "state religion" under
Constantine about 313 A.D. there were much fewer Christians
observing the 7th day Sabbath and Passover, but there always
remained some who did, just as it is so today - Keith Hunt)

Evaluation of the Appearances. 

     John Paul attaches particular significance to the
appearances of the Risen Lord on the first day of the week to
"the two disciples of Emmaus (cf. Luke 24:13-35) and to the
eleven Apostles gathered together (cf. Luke 24:36-49; John
20:19)." 43  The fact that He also appeared to the disciples the
following Sunday ("eight days later" - John 20:26) to make
Himself known to Thomas, and that He fulfilled the promise of
outpouring the Holy Spirit on a Sunday (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4-5)
is seen as the beginning of a consistent pattern of Sunday
observance. 44
     The appearances of Christ do not follow any consistent
pattern. The mention of Christ's appearance "eight days later"
(John 20:26), supposedly the Sunday following His Resurrection,
can hardly suggest a regular pattern of Sunday observance since
John himself explains its reason, namely, the absence of Thomas
at the previous appearance (John 20:24). Moreover, on this
occasion, John makes no reference to any cultic meal but simply
to Christ's tangible demonstration to Thomas of the reality of
his bodily Resurrection (John 20:26-29). The fact that "eight
days later" the disciples were again gathered together is not
surprising, since we are told that before Pentecost "they were
staying" (Acts 1:13) together in the upper room and there they
met daily for mutual edification (Acts 1:14; 2:1).
     No consistent pattern can be derived from Christ's
appearances to justify the institution of a recurring eucharistic
celebration on Sunday. The Lord appeared to individuals and to
groups not only on Sunday but at different times, places, and
circumstances. He appeared, in fact, to single persons such as
Cephas and James (1 Cor. 15:5,7), to the twelve (vv.5,7), and to
a group of five hundred persons (v.6). The meetings occurred, for
instance, while the disciples were gathered within shut doors for
fear of the Jews (John 20:19,26), traveling on the Emmaus road
(Luke 24:13-35), or fishing on the lake of Galilee (John
     Only with two disciples at Emmaus, Christ "took the bread
and blessed; and broke it, and gave it to them" (Luke 24:30).
     This last instance may sound like the celebration of the
Lord's Supper, but in reality it was an ordinary meal around an
ordinary table to which Jesus was invited. Christ accepted the
hospitality of the two disciples and sat "at the table with them"
(Luke 24:30). According to prevailing custom, the Lord "took the
bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them" (Luke
24:30). This act, as explained by J.Behm, was "simply a customary
and necessary part of the preparation for eating together." 45
The Witness of Matthew and Mark. Another notable point is that,
according to Matthew (28:10) and Mark (16:7), Christ's
appearances occurred not in Jerusalem (as mentioned by Luke and
John) but in Galilee. This suggests that, as S.V.McCasland
observes, "the appearance may have been as much as ten days
later, after the feast of the unleavened bread, as indicated by
the closing fragments of the Gospel of Peter. But if the
appearance at this late date was on Sunday it would be scarcely
possible to account for the observance of Sunday in such an
accidental way." 46
     While it may be difficult to explain the discrepancies in
the Gospels' narratives, the fact remains that both Matthew and
Mark make no reference to any meal or meeting of Christ with his
disciples on Easter Sunday. This implies that no particular
importance was attributed to the meal Christ shared with his
disciples on the Sunday night of his Resurrection.

     In the light of the foregoing considerations, we conclude
that Christ's appearances served to reassure the disheartened
disciples of the reality of Christ's Resurrection, but they could
hardly have set the pattern for a recurring weekly commemoration
of the Resurrection. They occurred at different times, places,
and circumstances; and in those instances where Christ ate, He
partook of ordinary food (like fish - John 21:13), not to
institute a eucharistic Sunday worship but to demonstrate the
reality of his bodily Resurrection.

(As a child reading my Bible from the age of 7, reading the
Gospels many numbers of time during my childhood and teens,
attending on a very regular basis "Sunday school" - I never came
close to associating the appearances of Christ after His
resurrection, to teach us the sanctification of Sunday. This is
how the mind of a child would read the Gospels and first chapter
of Acts, if fed no preconceived ideas of theology - Keith Hunt)

(2) The Day of the Sun and the Creation of Light

     John Paul maintains that "the Old Testament vision of the
Sabbath" inspired the earliest Christians to link the
Resurrection with the first day of creation. He writes:

     "Christian thought spontaneously linked the Resurrection,
     which took place on 'the first day of the week,' with the
     first day of that cosmic week (cf. Gen. 1:1-2:4) which
     shapes the creation story of the Book of Genesis: the day of
     the creation of light (cf. 1:3-5)." 47

     The linkage between the Resurrection and the creation of
light was not as "spontaneously" inspired by "the Old Testament
vision of the Sabbath," as the Pope suggests. In my dissertation
"From Sabbath to Sunday," I submit compelling documents
indicating that such linkage was inspired by the necessity which
arose in the post-apostolic period to justify the abandonment of
the Sabbath and the adoption of the Day of the Sun.

Hadrianic Anti-Sabbath Legislation. 

     This development began during the reign of the Emperor
Hadrian (A.D.117-138) as a result of the repressive anti-Judaic
legislation. In A.D.135, Hadrian promulgated a legislation that
categorically prohibited the practice of Judaism, in general, and
of Sabbathkeeping, in particular. The aim of this legislation was
to liquidate Judaism as a religion at a time when the Jews where
experiencing resurgent Messianic expectations that exploded in
violent uprisings in various parts of the empire, especially
Palestine. 48
     To avoid the repressive anti-Jewish and anti-Sabbath
legislation, most Christians adopted the Day of the Sun as their
new day of worship. This enabled them to show the Roman
authorities their differentiations from the Jews and their
identification and integration with the customs and cycles of the
Roman empire.
     To develop a theological justification for worshipping on
the Day of the Sun, Christians appealed to God's creation of
light on the first day and to the Resurrection of Christ as the
Sun of Justice, since both events coincided with the Day of the
Sun. The latter was connected to the first day of the
creation-week, because the creation of light on the first day
provided what appeared to many a providential biblical
justification for observing the Day of the Sun, the generator of

Sunday and the Creation of Light. 

     The earliest example of this linkage is found in Justin
Martyr's "Apology," addressed to the Emperor Antoninus Pius
(about A.D.150). Justin writes: "Sunday (dies solis) is the day
on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first
day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and
matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same
day rose from the dead." 49  Christians, as Cardinal J.Danielou
points out, noticed early the coincidence between the creation of
light on the first day and the veneration of the Sun which took
place on the selfsame day. 50
     Jerome (A.D.342-420) makes the connection very explicit when
he says: "If it is called the Day of the Sun by the pagans, we
most willingly acknowledge it as such, since it is on this day
that the light of the world appeared and on this day the Sun of
Justice has risen." 51
     These considerations suggest that Christians did not
spontaneously come to view the day of Christ's Resurrection as
the fulfillment of the creative and redemptive accomplishments
celebrated by the seventh day Sabbath. The linkage to the
creation week was made primarily by virtue of the fact that the
creation of the light on the first day provided what to many
Christians appeared to be a "biblical" justification for
observing the Day of the Sun.

Evangelistic Considerations. 

     The christianization of the Day of the Sun was apparently
designed also to facilitate the acceptance of Christianity by
pagans who worshipped the Sun-god, especially on his day of the
Sun. For them to adopt the Day of the Sun as their Christian day
of worship was not a problem since that day already had special
religious significance in their pagan religion.
     It is noteworthy that the growing popularity of Sun worship
led to the advancement of the Day of the Sun from the position of
second day of the week (following Saturn-day), to that of first
and most important day of the week. The historical sources
available indicate that this development occurred in the early
part of the second century - that is, at the very time when
Christians adopted the Day of the Sun for their weekly worship.
     John Paul acknowledges the evangelistic intent of the
adoption of the "day of the Sun." He writes: "Wise pastoral
intuition suggested to the Church the christianization of the
notion of Sunday as 'the day of the Sun,' which was the Roman
name for the day and which is retained in some modern languages.
This was in order to draw the faithful away from the seduction of
cults which worshipped the sun, and to direct the celebration of
the day to Christ, humanity's true 'sun.'" 53
     Unfortunately, this strategy backfired because Christians
were often tempted to revert to the popular veneration of the Sun
and other planetary gods. For example, Philaster, Bishop of
Brescia (died ca. A.D.397) condemns as heresy the prevailing
belief that "the name of the days of the Sun, of the Moon ... had
been established by God at the creation of the world ... The
pagans, that is, the Greeks have set up such names and with the
names also the notion that mankind depends from the seven stars"
     In a document attributed to Priscillian, a Spanish Bishop of
Avila (ca. A.D.340-385), anathema is pronounced against those
Christians who "in their sacred ceremonies, venerate and
acknowledge as gods the Sun, Moon ... and all the heavenly host,
which are detestable idols worthy of the Gehenna." 55
     The adoption and christianization of the day of the sun,
instead of the biblical Sabbath, has not proven to be a "wise
pastoral intuition" since it has tempted Christians in the past
to revert to pagan worship, and it is tempting Christians today
to treat Sunday as a pagan holiday rather than as a Biblical Holy

Was Sunday Needed? 

     At this juncture I would like to pose respectfully to Pope
John Paul some important questions: If the Sabbath had been
divinely established to commemorate God's creative and re-
demptive accomplishments on behalf of His people, what right had
the Catholic Church to make Sunday the legitimate "fulfillment,"
"full expression," and "extension" of the Sabbath? Was the
theology and typology of the Sabbath no longer adequate after the
Cross to commemorate creation and redemption? Was not the Paschal
Mystery fulfilled through the death, burial, and Resurrection of
Christ which occurred respectively on Friday, Saturday, and

(Here Bacchiocchi is wrong! The death of Christ was a Wednesday
afternoon and he was put in the grave Wednesday evening. He arose
from the dead Saturday evening - three days and three nights
later just as he said He would - Mat.12:40 - Keith Hunt)

     Why should Sunday be chosen to celebrate the atoning
sacrifice of Christ when His redemptive mission was completed on
a Friday afternoon when the Savior exclaimed "It is finished"
(John 19:30), and then He rested in the tomb according to the
Sabbath commandment? Does not this fact suggest that both God's
creation rest and Christ's redemption rest in the tomb occurred
on the Sabbath? How can Sunday be invested with the
eschatological meaning of the final restoration rest that awaits
the people of God when the New Testament attaches such a meaning
to the Sabbath? "A Sabbath rest [literally, a 'Sabbathkeeping']
has been left behind [apoleipetai] for the people of God" (Heb
4:9). Augustine himself recognizes the eschatological meaning of
the Sabbath when he eloquently says that on that final Sabbath
"we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise." 56

     May I respectfully suggest that the Pope's attempt to invest
Sunday with the theological meaning and eschatological function
of the Sabbath by virtue of Christ's Resurrection on the first
day is well-meaning but misguided. It mistakenly makes Sunday the
biblical Sabbath, when in reality the two days differ radically
in their origin, meaning, authority, and experience.

(Jesus did rest in the grave on the Sabbath. He was resurrected
after sunset on what we would call Saturday evening. It was as
all early Christians knew, a first day resurrection. Christ in
typology was the first fruits from the dead, the first to be
raised from the dead to immortal glory. The cutting of the wave-
sheaf [Sadducee teaching] was correctly done by the Sadducees on
Saturday evening after sunset, and the counting to Pentecost
started from the first day of the week, for 49 days or seven
weekly Sabbaths, to the 50th day, or the morrow after the seventh
Sabbath, which would then always be on a Sunday. Jesus was the
first of the firstfruits, a first day resurrection. We Christians
are the firstfruits to God the Father, pictured by the Feast of
firstfruits Pentecost. All this typology is expounded upon in
various of my sturdies on this Website - Keith Hunt)

(3) The Religious Gatherings on the First Day of the Week

     In his Pastoral Letter, Pope John Paul traces the origin of
Sunday worship back to the Apostolic church. He claims that from
Apostolic times the first day of the week shaped the religious
life of Christ's disciples. 57  To support this claim, the Pope
appeals to three commonly used texts: (1) 1 Corinthians 16:2, (2)
Acts 20:7-12, and (3) Revelation 1:10. Each of these passages are
examined at great length in my dissertation. 58  In this context
I limit myself to a few basic observations.

1 Corinthians 16:2: Christian Sunday Gatherings? 

     The firstday fund-rasing plan recommended by Paul in 1
Corinthians 16:1-3 is cited by John Paul as an indication that
"from Apostolic times, 'the first day after the Sabbath,' the
first day of the week, began to shape the rhythm of life
for Christ's disciples (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2)." 59  The Pope affirms
that "ever since Apostolic times, the Sunday gathering has in
fact been for Christians a moment of fraternal sharing with the
poor. 'On the first day of the week, each of you is to put aside
and save whatever extra you earn' (1 Cor. 16:2), says Saint Paul
in referring to the collection organized for the poor churches of
Judaea." 60
     John Paul sees in the first-day fund-raising plan
recommended by Paul in this text a clear indication that the
Christian Church gathered for worship on that day. This view is
shared by numerous Catholic and Protestant scholars. 61  For
example, Corrado Mosna argues that since Paul designates the
"offering" in 2 Corinthians 9:12 as "service-leiturgia," the
collection [of 1 Corinthians 16:2] must have been linked with the
Sunday worship service of the Christian assembly." 62
     The various attempts to extrapolate from Paul's fund-raising
plan a regular pattern of Sunday observance reveal inventiveness
and originality, but they rest on construed arguments and not on
the actual information the text provides. 
     Observe, first of all, that there is nothing in the text to
suggests public assemblies inasmuch as the setting aside of funds
was to be done "by himself--par'heauto." The phrase suggests that
the collection was to be done individually and in private.
     If the Christian community was worshiping together on
Sunday, it appears paradoxical that Paul should recommend laying
aside at home one's gift. Why should Christians deposit their
offering at home on Sunday if on such a day they were gathering
for worship? Should not the money have been brought to the Sunday
(It is a mighty big leap to read into this fund-raising as
teaching a "regular" Sunday worship practice, and especially any
teaching to show Sunday was now a "holy day" in-place-of the 4th
commandment Sabbath. People who jump to this conclusion are
indeed doing what many Bible sceptics have claimed: "You can make
the Bible say anything you want it to say" - Keith Hunt)

Purpose of the Fund-raising Plan. 

     The purpose of the first-day fund-raising plan is clearly
stated by the Apostle: "So that contributions need not be made
when I come" (1 Cor. 16:2). The plan then is proposed not to
enhance Sunday worship by the offering of gifts, but to ensure a
substantial and efficient collection upon his arrival. Four
characteristics can be identified in the plan. The offering was
to be laid aside periodically ("on the first day of every week" -
v.2), personally ("each of you" - v.2), privately ("by himself in
store" - v.2), and proportionately ("as he may prosper" - v.2).
     To the same community on another occasion, Paul thought it
necessary to send brethren to "arrange in advance for the gift
... promised, so that it may be ready not as an exaction but as a
willing gift" (2 Cor. 9:5). The Apostle desired to avoid
embarrassing both to the givers and to the collectors when
finding that they "were not ready" (2 Cor. 9:4) for the
offering. To avoid such problems in this instance, he recommends
both a time - the first day of the week - and a place - one's
     Paul's mention of the first day could be motivated more by
practical than theological reasons. To wait until the end of the
week or of the month to set aside one's contributions or savings
is contrary to sound budgetary practices, since by then one finds
empty pockets and empty hands. On the other hand, if, on the
first day of the week before planning any expenditures, believers
set aside what they plan to give, the remaining funds will be so
distributed as to meet all the basic necessities. The text,
therefore, proposes a valuable weekly plan to ensure a
substantial and orderly contribution on behalf of the poor
brethren of Jerusalem - to extract more meaning from the text
would distort it.

(Would for sure destroy it, but would also be making the Bible
say anything you desire it to say, and that is one very good
reason you have all the "denominations" in Christendom that we
have - Keith Hunt)

Acts 20:7-11: First-Day Troas Meeting. 

     Fundamental importance is attributed to Acts 20:7-11
inasmuch as it contains the only explicit New Testament reference
to a Christian gathering conducted "on the first day of the week
... to break bread" (Acts 20:7). John Paul assumes that the
meeting was a customary Sunday assembly "upon which the faithful
of Troas were gathered 'for the breaking of the bread [that is,
the Eucharistic celebration]." 63
     Numerous scholars share the Pope's view. F.F.Bruce, for
example, affirms that this statement "is the earliest unambiguous
evidence we have for the Christian practice of gathering together
for worship on that day." 64  Paul Jewett similarly declares that
"here is the earliest clear witness to Christian assembly for
purposes of worship on the first day of the week." 65  Statements
like these could be multiplied.
     These categorical conclusions rest mostly on the assumption
that verse 7 represents "a fixed formula" which describes the
habitual time ("On the first day of the week") and the nature
("to break bread") of the primitive Christian worship. Since,
however, the meeting occurred in the evening and "the breaking of
the bread" took place after midnight (vv.7,11) and Paul left the
believers at dawn, we need to ask: Was the time and nature of the
Troas gathering ordinary or extraordinary, occasioned perhaps by
the departure of the Apostle?

Special Farewell Gathering. 

     The context clearly indicates that it was a special farewell
gathering occasioned by the departure of Paul, and not a regular
Sunday-worship custom. The meeting began on the evening of the
first day, which, according to Jewish reckoning, was our Saturday
night, and continued until early Sunday morning when Paul

     Being a night meeting occasioned by the departure of the
Apostle at dawn, it is hardly reflective of regular
     Paul would have observed with the believers only the night
of Sunday and traveled during the day time. This was not allowed
on the Sabbath and would not have set the best example of
Sundaykeeping either. The passage suggests, as noted by F.J.
Foakes-Jackson, that "Paul and his friends could not, as good
Jews, start on a journey on a Sabbath; they did so as soon after
it as was possible (verse 12) at dawn on the 'first day' the
Sabbath having ended at sunset." 66

The Breaking of the Bread.    

     The expression "to break bread--klasai arton" deserves
closer attention. What does it actually mean in the context of
the passage? Does it mean that 'the Christians came together for
a fellowship meal or to celebrate the Lord's Supper? It should be
noted that the breaking of bread was simply a customary and
necessary part of the preparation for eating together. The act of
breaking in pieces a loaf of bread by the host marked the opening
action of a meal. In most European cultures, the same function is
fulfilled by the host wishing "Buon appetito--Good Appetite" to
the guest. This ritual gives permission to all to begin eating.
     In the post-apostolic literature, the expression "breaking
of bread" is used as a technical designation for the Lord's
Supper. But this is not the common meaning or usage in the New
Testament. In fact, the verb "to break--klao" followed by the
noun "bread--artos" occurs fifteen times in the New Testament.
Nine times it refers to Christ's act of breaking bread when
feeding the multitude, when partaking of the Last Supper, and
when eating with His disciples after His Resurrection (Matt
14:19; 15:36; 26:26; Mark 8:6; 9:19; 14:22; Luke 22:19; 24:30;
24:35); twice it describes Paul's commencing and partaking of a
meal (Acts 20:11; 27:35); twice it describes the actual breaking
of the bread of the Lord's Supper (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:24); and
twice it is used as a general reference to the disciples' or
believers' "breaking bread" together (Acts 2:46; 20:7).
     It should be noticed that in none of these instances is the
Lord's Supper explicitly or technically designated as "the
breaking of bread." An attempt could be made to see a reference
to the Lord's Supper in the two general references of Acts 2:46
and 20:7. As far as Acts 2:46 is concerned, the phrase "breaking
bread in their homes" obviously refers to the daily
table-fellowship of the earliest Christians, when, as the text
says, "day by day ... they partook of food with glad and generous
hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people" (Acts
     Such daily table-fellowship, though it may have included the
celebrations of the Lord's Supper, can hardly be construed as
exclusive liturgical celebrations of the Lord's Supper. The
equivalent statement found in Acts 20:7, "We were gathered
together to break bread," similarly needs mean no more than "We
were gathered to eat together." In fact, there is no mention of a
cup, nor of any prayers or reading of a Scripture. It is Paul
alone who broke bread and ate. No indication is given that he
ever blessed the bread or the wine or that he distributed it to
the believers.
     Furthermore, the breaking of bread was followed by a meal
"having eaten--geusamenos" (v.11). The same verb is used by Luke
in three other instances with the explicit meaning of satisfying
hunger (Acts 10:10; 23:14; Luke 14:24). Undoubtedly, Paul was
hungry after his prolonged speech and needed some food before he
could continue his exhortation and start his journey. However, if
Paul partook of the Lord's Supper together with a regular meal,
he would have acted contrary to his recent instruction to the
Corinthians to whom he strongly recommended satisfying their
hunger by eating at home before gathering to celebrate the Lord's
Supper (1 Cor. 11:2,22,34).

     The New Testament does not offer any indication regarding a
fixed day for the celebration of the Lord's Supper. While Paul
recommends to the Corinthian believers a specific day on which to
privately set aside their offerings, concerning the celebration
of the Lord's Supper he repeatedly says in the same epistle and
to the same people, "When you come together" (1 Cor. 11:18,20,
33,34), implying indeterminate times and days.

     The simplest way to explain the passage is that Luke
mentions the day of the meeting not because it was Sunday, but
most likely because (1) Paul was "ready to depart" (Acts 20:7),
(2) the extraordinary miracle of Eutychus occurred that night,
and (3) the time reference provides an additional, significant,
chonological reference to describe the unfolding of Paul's

(Again, a mighty leap of imagination is needed to read into the
"break bread" passages, to infer a teaching of a regular Lord's
supper celebration on a now sanctified new Christian holy day,
that of Sunday sacredness. I had read those passages many times
as a boy and young man, and never once thought they taught
anything to do with any "sacred" day of any kind - Keith Hunt)

Revelation 1:10: "The Lord's Day." 

     The third crucial New Testament passage used by John Paul to
defend the apostolic origin of Sunday observance is found in the
book of Revelation. John, exiled on the "island of Patmos on
account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 1
:9), writes: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day--en to
kuriake hemera" (Rev 1:10).

     John Paul claims that this text "gives evidence of the
practice of calling the first day of the week 'the Lord's Day'
(Rev. 1:10). This would now be a characteristic distinguishing
Christians from the world around them ... And when Christians
spoke of the 'Lord's Day,' they did so giving to this term the
full sense of the Easter proclamation: 'Jesus Christ is Lord'
(Phil. 2:11; cf. Acts 2:36; 1 Cor. 12:3)." 67

     The implication of the Pope's statement is that New
Testament Christians not only called Sunday "The Lord's Day" but
also expressed through such designation their faith in their
Risen Savior. Numerous scholars share the same view. For example,
Corrado Mosna emphatically writes: "By the phrase 'Lord's Day'
(Rev. 1:10), John wishes to indicate specifically the day in
which the community celebrates together the eucharistic liturgy."
68  he phrase "eucharistic liturgy" is used by Catholics to
describe the Lord's Supper celebration in honor of the Risen
     A detailed analysis of this text would take us beyond the
limited scope of this chapter. In my dissertation "From Sabbath
to Sunday" I devoted twenty pages (pp.111 to 131) to an
examination of this verse. For the purpose of this chapter, I
submit only two basic observations.

     First, the equation of Sunday with the expression "Lord's
day" is not based on internal evidences of the book of Revelation
or of the rest of the New Testament, but on three second-century
patristic testimonies, namely, "Didache" 14:1, Ignatius' "Epistle
to the Magnesians" 9:1, and "The Gospel of Peter" 35; 50. Of the
three, however, only in the "Gospel of Peter," written toward the
end of the second century, is Sunday unmistakably designated by
the technical term "Lord's--kuriake." In two different verses it
reads: "Now in the night in which the Lord's day (He kuriake)
dawned ... there rang out a loud voice in heaven" (v.35); "Early
in the morning of the Lord's day (tes kuriakes) Mary Magdalene
... came to the sepulchre" (v.50,51).
     It is noteworthy that while in the genuine Gospels Mary
Magdalene and the other women went to the sepulchre "early on the
first day of the week" (Mark 16:2; cf. Matt 28:1; Luke 24:1; John
20:1), in the apocryphal "Gospel of Peter" it says that they went
"early in the morning of the Lord's day." The use of the new
designation "Lord's Day" instead of "first day of the week"
clearly indicates that by the end of the second century
Christians referred to Sunday as "the Lord's Day."
     The latter usage, however, cannot be legitimately read back
into Revelation 1:10. A major reason is that if Sunday had
already received the new appellation "Lord's day" by the end of
the first century, when both the Gospel of John and the book of
Revelation were written, we would expect this new name for Sunday
to be used consistently in both works, especially since they were
apparently produced by the same author at approximately the same
time and in the same geographical area.
     If the new designation "Lord's day" already existed by the
end of the first century, and expressed the meaning and nature of
Christian Sunday worship, John would not have had reasons to use
the Jewish phrase "first day of the week" in his Gospel.
     Therefore, the fact that the expression "Lord's day" occurs
in John's apocalyptic book but not in his Gospel where the first
day is explicitly mentioned in conjunction with the Resurrection
(John 20:1) and the appearances of Jesus (John 20:19,26) suggests
that the "Lord's day" of Revelation 1:10 can hardly refer to

No Easter Sunday. 

     A second important consideration that discredits the Pope's
claim that Sunday was called "Lord's Day" in the "sense of the
Easter proclamation" is the fact that the book of Revelation is
addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor who did not observe
Easter-Sunday. Instead, they observed Passover by the biblical
date of Nisan 14. Polycrates, who claims to be following the
tradition of the Apostle John, convened a council of the church
leaders of Asia Minor (about A.D.191) to discuss the summon
received from Bishop Victor of Rome to adopt Easter-Sunday. The
unanimous decision of the Asian bishops was to reject
Easter-Sunday and to retain the Biblical dating of Passover. 69

     In the light of these facts, it would be paradoxical if the
Apostle John, who kept Passover by the fixed date of Nisan 14 and
who wrote to Christians in Asia Minor who like him did not
observe Easter-Sunday, would have used the phrase "Lord's Day" to
express his Easter faith in the Risen Lord. Cardinal Jean
Danielou, a respected Catholic scholar, timidly acknowledges this
fact when he writes: "In the Apocalypse (1:10), when Easter takes
place on the 14 Nisan, the word [Lord's Day] does not perhaps
mean Sunday." 70

     The only day that John knew as the "Lord's Day" by the end
of the first century when he wrote the book of Revelation is the
Sabbath. This is the only day of which Christ proclaims Himself
to be "Lord--kupios." "For the Son of man is lord of the Sabbath"
(Matt. 12:8).

     The immediate context that precedes and follows Revelation
1:10 contains unmistakable references to the eschatological day
of the Lord. This suggests the possibility that the "Lord's Day"
on which John was transported in vision was a Sabbath day in
which he saw the great day of Christ's coming. What greater
vision could have given courage to the aged Apostle in exile for
his witness to Christ! Moreover, the Sabbath is closely linked
eschatologically to the Second Advent. The meeting of the
invisible Lord in time on the weekly Sabbath is a prelude to the
meeting of the visible Lord in space on the final day of His

(As Bacchiocchi elsewhere writes, the meaning of "the Lord's day"
in the book of Revelation, a prophetic book, is in tune with the
Old Testament prophets when they used the phrase "Lord's day" as
the prophetic time of the end of the age and the time when God
steps in to save the world from itself; the time of mighty
tribulation and miracles and prophetic events, that leads up to
the end of the age and the coming of Christ in visible power and
glory, to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth. Most of the
book of Revelation is the prophecy of the time of the wrath of
God's punishment and intervention on the nations of the earth.
John sees in vision this period of the end time, or the "day of
the Lord." The phrase as used by John has nothing to do with ANY
day of the week - Keith Hunt)

     Summing up, the attempt of the Pastoral Letter to find
biblical support for Sunday worship in the New Testament
references to the Resurrection (Mark 16:2, 9; Luke 24:1; John
20:1) - the first-day farewell night meeting at Troas (Acts
20:7-11), the first-day private deposit plan mentioned by Paul in
1 Corinthians 16:1-3, and the reference to the "Lord's Day" in
Revelation 1:10 - is not new. The same arguments have been used
repeatedly in the past and found wanting.

     An important fact, often ignored, is that if Paul or any
other apostle had attempted to promote the abandonment of the
Sabbath (a millenarian institution deeply rooted in the religious
consciousness of God's people), and the adoption instead of
Sunday observance, they would have stirred up considerable
opposition on the part of Jewish-Christians, as was the case with
reference to the circumcision.

     The absence of any echo of Sabbath/Sunday controversy in the
New Testament is a most telling evidence that the introduction of
Sunday observance is a post-apostolic phenomenon. In my
dissertation "From Sabbath to Sunday," I endeavored to identify
the interplay of social, political, and religious factors that
contributed to this historical change. In the light of these
considerations, the attempt of Pope John Paul to give a biblical
sanction to Sunday worship by tracing its origins to the
Apostolic Church must be viewed as well-meaning but devoid of
biblical support.



     In his Pastoral Letter Dies Domini, Pope John Paul devotes
one of the five chapters (chapter 4) to emphasize the obligation
of Sunday observance and the legislation needed to facilitate
compliance with such obligation. The Pope's call for civil
legislation to facilitate Sunday observance stems from three
major considerations which we need to briefly consider:


To be continued

  Home Previous Page Top of Page Next Page

Navigation List:

Word Search: